Forecasting in the pocket
Design tips for mobile forecasting applications
By Stavros Asimakopoulos, Lecturer in User Experience, University of Athens, Greece
Ours is an interconnected world populated by a plethora of computing and smart devices - thermostats, watches and eyeglasses, phones, tablets, laptops, desktops, TVs and even smart tabletops.
Because many of these devices are mobile, they afford new opportunities for business forecasting communication and collaboration. This is because mobile applications lend themselves to sharing information with others.
Our recent research sheds light on the relatively unexplored mobile forecasting experience for simplifying information flow and faster response to new information. We conducted user-focus groups (24 participants from six organizations in total) and held a dozen interviews with web-based/mobile-technology experts. The participants indicated they spent an average of 25 percent of their working time outside their offices.
The findings from the research and from working with users and technology experts show that:
- Mobile devices improve communication and collaboration around activities such as exception-list reporting, tracking and sharing of events and promotions, new product launches and pushing content.
- Vendors of forecasting support systems must design mobile forecasting applications that fit the mobile experience. Our survey uncovered concerns about:
- Error vulnerability.
- Loss and hacking of data.
- Limitations in processing
- Screen size limitations.
- Designing collaborative mobile forecasting applications requires a more user-centered approach that may include:
- Creating interactive dashboards.
- Writing for a smaller form factor.
- Accounting for new mobile approaches.
- Exploiting mobile’s social nature.
Here are some tips for designing content in the limited screen space of a mobile device:
- Put the most important information at the top – sales data, product promotions, upcoming events, etc.
- Limit the dashboard to two to four main views that display the latest forecasts and reports.
- Consider touchscreen usage with large buttons and easy scrolling; particularly while viewing a large graph or tabular details.
- Make it easy to record and share data, visuals and reports with selected users by enabling user profiles.
You should also provide a way for users to attach comments to a forecast report and engage in conversations about key forecast metrics or results. Consider creating a special dashboard view that salespeople can use with customers or manufacturers. For example, a dashboard could contain information about products, schedules, new events and upcoming promotions. Or, build a line-of-business dashboard that contains all key forecast metrics, making it easy for users to see top business trends, even in the midst of planning sessions.
You should note that collaborative mobile forecasting, or any collaboration for that matter, is tied to the situational context and user incentives for sharing content and information play an important role. In other words, motivation to use collaborative features on a mobile app is not a given. To increase user engagement, designers need to align design strategies to reflect user motivations.
Using our already positive emotional attachments to mobile devices as a springboard, skillful application designers can, should and no doubt will, create mobile forecasting interfaces that support us in our daily routines by making forecast-related information attractive, compelling, easily accessible, cross-functional, and thus an integral part of forecasting task flow.
Stavros Asimakopoulos, Foresight Editor for Forecasting Support Systems, is Lecturer in User Experience (UX) at the University of Athens, Greece. Formerly a Director of UX at Experience Dynamics – USA, he has more than 10 years of experience in user research, forecasting software-design improvements and UX strategy in business forecasting systems. Stavros is an active member of the British Human-Computer Interaction Group and regularly presents his work at the International Symposium on Forecasting.